Large, complicated sites with decentralized contribution models are breeding grounds for non compliant content. That’s higher ed’s signature state.

Web accessibility litigation is at an all time high.

It’s time to face the cold, hard facts. In 2017, ADA Title III lawsuits increased by 16 percent in large part due to website accessibility claims. From Fordham University to Pharrell Williams, website accessibility cases are transforming the way we think about digital compliance.

Especially in higher education, the list of accessibility lawsuits, complaints, and settlements is quickly growing longer.

“This is not a trend that is going away. In 2017 alone, plaintiffs filed in excess of 800 federal lawsuits alleging website inaccessibility, not to mention the countless demand letters resulting in an untold number of pre-litigation settlements. There is no doubt that this number will climb in 2018 and beyond.” – Fisher & Phillips, LLP

You can almost smell the fear in the industry as institution after institution receives the dreaded Office of Civil Rights notice in the mail

Vulnerabilities in Higher Ed

Large, complicated sites with decentralized contribution models are breeding grounds for non compliant content. That’s higher ed’s signature state.

“School websites can be particularly vulnerable since content is often updated continuously and by multiple individuals. Therefore, just because you hired a vendor to build an accessible website a few years ago, maintaining that accessibility can be a challenge in a school setting.” – Fisher & Phillips, LLP

In addition, higher education institutions have been targeted by advocates, making sure these slow-moving organizations can’t drag their feet on accessibility any longer.

Learn from others’ experiences.

Making your site compliant after you’ve been served with an accessibility complaint is a long and arduous process. We recently spoke to a contact (who shall remain anonymous) about his experience mitigating an accessibility complaint as the manager of web communications at a liberal arts college.

The Accessibility Complaint

The official letter from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) went directly into the hands of the college’s President, as most higher education OCR notices do. The letter listed missing alt-tags, missing captions from Facebook videos, and features and sliders that weren’t accessible to keyboards as primary issues. There were multiple subsequent calls with the OCR, and on every call, the college was informed of additional issues. With the help of college counsel, the institution worked to resolve the initial concerns as well as the issues raised in follow up conversations.

Actions the Institution Took

The college had 180 days to make a good faith effort to eliminate the accessibility errors on their site. As part of the effort, they:

  • Educated leadership. Support from senior leadership was crucial to resolving issues on the site in a timely matter.
  • Updated training practices. The web team developed a plan for more in-depth training moving forward, and built accessibility into content management system training.
  • Rethought social media. Facebook and YouTube are places where people often post inaccessible, non closed-captioned content. The college changed its entire workflow around video.
  • Tackled PDF’s. The college hired two high schools students over the summer, trained them on pdf accessibility (thanks, Lynda.com!), and let them loose on the website.
  • Hired experts. For more complicated tasks, the institution used an outside partner with a more specialized skillset in accessibility compliance.

Our contact noted that accessibility is “not that much more work if you consider it ahead of time, plan for it, scan your site on a regular basis, and create a review process.”

It is far simpler, and more cost efficient, to remediate accessibility issues on your website through a website redesign and/or careful, strategic planning and maintenance.

The college implemented these processes to ensure it completed the legal steps towards compliance with the OCR and to maintain compliance moving forward.

Stop stalling.

Do the mysteries of color contrast keep you up at night? Do you nod knowingly when you hear “WCAG” while secretly hoping nobody asks you to chime in with specifics? Are you scared sh*tless that your institution is next? You aren’t alone. But as our friend and contact recently learned, even the most well-meaning teams can end up in legal hot water.

You can’t hide, so get informed.

  • Do your homework: accessibility IS for everyone.
  • What matters more than passing a test? Humans. Oddly enough, accessibility scans and real life users don’t always agree. Here’s how we find the middle ground.
  • There’s no single, sanctioned, fail-proof government-approved accessibility test, but Pa11y is one that we trust.

Ultimately, being accessible isn’t a box you can check off at the end of a project. You must consistently consider how well your website works for the real people who use it.

Still lost? Ask for help.

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published March 29th 2018